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Role To The Goal: How Developing Role-Based Personas Can Increase Conversions

A lot has been shown about the effectiveness of preparing customer personas. They help your whole team stay on track about who your website is for and add empathy to your process.

Commonly, customer personas are based on demographic and behavioral data. Demographic data is useful when your website is targeted at a very specific audience. For example; retirees who like to play golf. Behavioral personas goes deeper than demographic data and help you define the intrinsic wants and needs of your customer.

Both of these persona models are especially helpful when it comes to business model design, marketing, and branding. However, if you already have these in place and are now focusing on website conversion optimization, I’d like to introduce to you a third type of persona, the role-based persona.

Most of the time, people are visiting a website to fulfill a particular goal. They are on a mission! They don’t read everything and they certainly don’t linger around on a site clicking links out of curiosity, as many of us would like to believe. If something gets in their way, most of the time, they simply leave.

Here’s how you can avoid that and why role-based personas are useful for conversion optimization.

Role-based personas help you cater to your user’s goals and thus, fulfill your own conversion goals.

Here are some unique benefits to preparing role-based personas:

  • They do not assume a gender, age, income level, etc. This helps you expand your efforts to a wider group of people should you choose to do so.
  • They help you work with the dreaded tunnel-vision phenom. This is what happens when visitors are so focused on their goal that they don’t see anything else on your site.
  • They empower your users. By anticipating what your visitor’s goals are, you go a long way in making your visitor not feel stupid. Believe me, the last thing you want a potential customer to feel is stupid when they visit your site.

So, how do you prepare role-based personas?

First, you need to define what your visitor’s goals actually are.

There are several ways you can do this. However, if you can work with real data instead of guessing what the goals are yourself, that information will always be much more valid.

Here are some ways you can figure out what your visitors goals are:

  • Look at your analytics. If your analytics tool lets you see the path of actions that visitors take, this is a good way to determine what their goals are and what they are looking for, especially if you see common patterns emerge. Seeing where your visitors come from can also tell you a lot.
  • Survey your visitors. You can just ask your visitors directly what their goals are. The best way to do this is right when they are visiting your site, so you can catch them right that moment. A very good tool for this is KISSinsights. It’s simple enough to not force your visitors to make a big time-commitment and people do answer it, particularly if they are frustrated, which is good for you.

Here are some examples of common goals your visitors may have:

  • “I’d like to purchase x”.
  • “I’m looking for information about x”.
  • “I’m doing research and want to learn about your company”.
  • “I want to be entertained”.
  • “I’m just browsing”.

Once you’ve defined your visitor’s most common goals, then you need to order them by priority.

The priority of each goal will likely need to be defined where the visitor’s top goals and yours intersect.

Intersection of visitor goals and conversion goals

If your visitor’s top goal is to purchase a specific product and your conversion goal is to increase sales on that same product, you have a winner.

After you’ve had your visitor’s goals defined and prioritized, the third step is to prepare user flows.

User flows are basically the series of actions that a user must take in order to complete their end-goal. If you are familiar with conversion funnels, it’s a very similar concept except without the funneling aspect.

Putting together user flows is a useful exercise because it allows you to focus on optimizing your site at each step. All you need to do is define your goal and all of the actions a visitor must take in order to complete that goal.

Here’s an example of a user flow chart for a visitor purchasing a product after searching for an keyword organically:

user flow chart for a visitor purchasing a product

Above you can see that I separated the shopping cart area from the website area. This is because it’s usually a good idea to optimize them separately and pay particular attention to your shopping cart area if you sell several products from your site.

User flows don’t even need to be for one-time visits. If you offer services, a common scenario is that a visitor will browse your site for information, perhaps sign-up for your newsletter, and then at some point in the future, purchase your services.

This is how that might look if they purchased on the second website visit:

flowchart after second website visit

This is useful because it helps you understand the whole process, not just the first conversion point, which is the newsletter sign-up. If you knew that many of your clients decided to purchase your services in this fashion, what would you do to make your website a better experience for them?

Perhaps you’d make your service information more clear and useful. Maybe you’d add friendly photos to your company page. Or, maybe you’d offer a free download for your newsletter subscribers that you know would be useful for potential clients, not just the general public.

Putting it all together

Now, you have your visitor goals and your user flows. The only thing left is to tie them together and keep them handy in one simple document like this:

visitors goals and user flows

Once you have the visitor’s goals and the typical action-steps that they take, then you can refer to your persona on an as-needed basis whenever you’d like to further optimize or make changes to your site.

Website Examples

Here are some examples of a couple websites that are good at quickly addressing their first-time user’s goals.


Pinterest User Flows

I believe there are several things that Pinterest could still do to make the experience better, however it’s a great example of how to remove obstacles for first-time visitors. Once you visit the site, you can immediately start browsing the pins and learning how it works.


Wufoo User Flows

Wufoo also does a really great job with helping first-time users complete their goal, to create a form. You can go through this friendly demo without signing up as shown above. Or, after you sign-up, you get helpful suggestions throughout that make the experience friendly and intuitive.


There you have it. Define your user’s goals, define your conversion goals, prioritize those goals, make user flows, and then pull it all together!

Additional Resources:

If you’re interested in learning more about persona development and user flows, check out the following resources:

About the Author: Naomi is an independent user experience designer, conversion analyst, and consultant living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. You can find more resources and insights from her on her personal site at

  1. Gregory Ciotti Feb 15, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Interesting topic and great execution, really enjoyable read Naomi.

  2. It’s always important to approach clients differently in sales, having one standard way of approaching someone rarely works. Maybe in retail sales, but not in a professional capacity.

  3. Thorough treatment of the topic Naomi: I particularly appreciated your graphics.


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